If you feel you’re “skinny fat” and don’t know why or what to do about it, then you want to read this article.

“Skinny fat” sounds like a paradox.

How can you be both skinny and fat at the same time?

Easy: have too little muscle and too much body fat.

That’s why some guys look like this:

what is skinny fat

And some gals like this:

skinny fat body type

It doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, of course, but hey, some of us just don’t want to be skinny fat.

And we don’t have to be if we do three simple things:

  1. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.
  2. Get our calories and macros right.
  3. Don’t do too much cardio.

These steps apply equally to men and women, too.

Contrary to what most fitness magazines would have you believe, weightlifting doesn’t make women bulky, and cardio isn’t all that great for weight loss and maintenance.

Weightlifting and maintaining a high body fat percentage is what makes women bulky, because any muscle added underneath a hefty layer of fat is just going to make you look fatter, and cardio should be used sparingly if you want to optimize your body composition.

Adding muscle to a lean woman who doesn’t burn it all away with endless cardio, though?

Well, that gives you something like this:

skinny fat to fit female

So, in this article, we’re going to take a closer look at the three steps of not being skinny fat given above and learn how to do them right.

Let’s do it.

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1. Do a lot of heavy compound weightlifting.

Out of all the different types of resistance training out there, heavy compound weightlifting is the absolute best for gaining muscle and strength.

It beats workout machines, bodyweight exercises, Yoga, Pilates, and everything else you can do to challenge and develop your muscles.

What is it, though?

Well, compound exercises are those that train multiple major muscle groups, like the squat, bench press, military press, and deadlift, and by “heavy,” I mean lifting weights that are 75%+ of your one-rep max.

The reason heavy compound weightlifting is so powerful is simple: it’s the best way to progressively overload your muscles.

You see, the primary driver of muscle growth is something called progressive overload, which refers to increasing tension levels in the muscles over time.

You can do this is various ways, but the most effective one is is simply getting stronger.

That’s why the strongest people in the gym are also generally the biggest, and if you want to build a great physique, your primary goal should be increasing whole-body strength.

Want to know how to build an effective weightlifting routine? Check out this article

2. Get your calories and macros right.

If you’re skinny fat, chances are, you could probably use some help in the dieting department.

Let me guess: you’ve been “eating clean” forever now but don’t seem to have much to show for it?

Well, that’s because as far as body composition goes, what you eat matters a lot less than how much.

Sure, the nutritional value of foods matters, but not for the reasons most people think. It affects your mental and physical health and performance, but not how you gain and lose muscle and fat.

That’s why you need to go back to basics and learn the real science of the human metabolism.

Specifically, you need to learn about energy balance and macronutrient composition, and when you do, you’ll probably realize that you’re making two mistakes:

  1. Eating too few or too many calories.
  2. Eating too little protein.

These are the two biggest dietary blunders that I see skinny fat people making, and they’re doozies.

Eat too few calories for too long, and you’ll eventually find yourself in a dietary purgatory of sorts where you’re no longer losing weight but unable to eat more without gaining.

Eat too many calories and you’ll just gain fat, slowly (or quickly) and steadily.

Eating too little protein is just as detrimental, because it accelerates muscle loss when calories are restricted and stunts muscle gains when calories are abundant.

If you get your calories and macros right, though, everything falls into place nicely.

You can lose fat rapidly without sacrificing muscle, and gain muscle efficiently without adding much in the way of body fat.

Here’s what “right” looks like, in a nutshell:

  • When you want to lose fat, eat 75 to 80% of your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE).
  • When you gain to gain muscle, eat 110 to 115% of your TDEE.
  • Eat around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.

You can fine tune it from there, of course, but if that’s all you knew, you’d avoid the many pitfalls that lead to skinny fat.

Want to know more about calculating your calories and macros? Check out this article.

3. Don’t do too much cardio.

Decades of bad weight loss advice has brainwashed people into thinking that you lift weights to gain weight and do cardio to lose it.

Well, what do you see when you look at the cardio machines in your gym?

I’d wager there are a lot of fat people. And the rest are skinny fat.

I’m being rhetorical, of course, but my point is this:

Cardio workouts aren’t all that great for losing weight.

They don’t burn nearly as much energy (and thus fat) as many people think, and if you do too much, it can interfere with your body’s ability to build and maintain muscle tissue.

Doing too much cardio has other disadvantages as well:

  • It can slow your progression in your weightlifting workouts.
  • It can increase the risk of overtraining and overuse injuries.
  • It eats up time that could be put to better use, inside or outside of the gym.

The key, then, is to do just enough cardio to reach your goals, and no more.

This way you can reap all of its fat burning and metabolic benefits without sacrificing your health, recovery, or performance.

And to that end, you should learn about high-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short.

It’s a form of cardio that revolves around doing short, maximum-effort sprints, and it’s far more effective for fat loss and muscle retention than traditional slow, steady-cardio cardio.

Want to learn more about how much cardio you should do? Check out this article.

Want to Know Even More About How to Improve Your Body Composition?

If you follow the simple strategies outlined in this article–eat right, lift right, and keep your cardio at low/moderate levels–you won’t be skinny fat.

I guarantee it.

If you want to know more about improving your body composition, though–about gaining muscle and losing fat–then you want to check out this longer, more in-depth discussion of the matter:

How to Measure and Improve Your Body Composition

The Bottom Line on Not Being Skinny Fat

Some people care about it more than others, but nobody likes being skinny fat.

Nobody celebrates their “hot dog legs” or “Olive Oyl arms,” and nobody knowingly and willing ruins their body composition.

Well, the good news is nobody has to be skinny fat.

If they just do a few things right in the kitchen and gym, they can dramatically improve their physique.

What’s your take on skinny fat? Have anything else to share? Let me know in the comments below!